Learning Japanese was one of the hardest hurdles I have encountered in my entire life. My first encounter of the language was in my third year in junior high school. It was my first year in Japan and was also my only year to prepare for the entrance exam for high school. I was enrolled in a normal Japanese junior high school at the time despite having zero Japanese knowledge. I had to learn my classes in the language and take the same quarterly exams with my Japanese classmates. The pressure from having to prepare for the entrance exam also did not help. I was in despair, but I had to acquire the language in a span of a year. It was an unrealistic goal at first, but I made it. With the proper mindset and technique in learning Japanese, I passed my entrance examination the year after and noticed quite a progress in my Japanese proficiency. However, I still had a long way to go. I kept learning the language with a similar attitude and approach and consequently was able to significantly improve my Japanese enough to achieve JLPT N1.
In this post, I would like to share and boil down the techniques that accelerated my Japanese learning and made the whole process truly worthwhile into a few steps.
3 steps that helped me throughout my Japanese language acquisition
Learning a language is no different from achieving a future dream in terms of the process. You do not just start something because you feel like it and expect a rapid outcome. You need to prepare yourself physically, mentally and emotionally, decide what you want to achieve out of it, and keep in mind the reason why you want to learn.
1. Being aware that it’s a long-term process – Sometimes the only hindrance we have is ourselves as it is easy for us to yield if we are not prepared for the struggles we need to overcome and accomplish a task. Thus, for a goal that entails great perseverance, such as acquiring a new language, recognizing the need for a long-term dedication before committing oneself is a critical move.
2. Setting a goal – Determining your learning objectives acts as a base for your learning strategy. It helps you narrow down your goals and eventually leads you to the right learning path. Also, it helps you be more in control of your time.
3. Motivating oneself – Self-motivation matters in achieving a goal since motivation helps produce higher output. No matter how prepared or aware one can be of a task, if they lack motivation, it is hard to drive one to do something.
The Learning Process
1. Start from learning how to read and write Japanese
The Japanese writing system has three scripts: hiragana, katakana, and kanji. Judging from experience, memorizing the characters in this order might help you learn to read and write easier.
- Hiragana – The basic step in mastering Japanese characters is from hiragana as it corresponds to each Japanese syllables. The Japanese language can entirely be written in hiragana except for loanwords. Thus, learning hiragana also serves as a perfect gateway to read, write, listen, and speak Japanese. For the reading and writing techniques, you have to memorize the hiragana chart first and move your way up to learning the rules and exceptions incorporated in the script. Click here for more details about the hiragana chart and its rules and exceptions.
- Katakana – After acquainting yourself with the hiragana script, start practicing katakana. The main reason for this is that learning the two scripts simultaneously is a complex method as both have similar sounds. To prevent a mix-up of the symbols, I recommend learning katakana after. Also, katakana is used mostly for non-Japanese names and loanwords and also contains almost the same written and spoken rules as hiragana, so learning the script later will not strain learners. Click here for more details about the katakana chart and its rules for contracted sounds.
- Kanji – Lastly, vastly improve your Japanese reading and writing capabilities through learning kanji as it is widely used to express words instead of Japanese phonetic alphabets. You do not have to learn all existing kanji in the Japanese language (as it may be impossible), but learn lots of commonly used ones. One method I did in learning Japanese was to start from easy reads like children’s books, which often has ”フリガナ” (furigana; a reading aid for kanji) and advance to more complex reads like senior high school textbooks.
The best way that helped me learn to read and write the three Japanese language scripts was to repeatedly write down the characters while uttering their sounds. Also, I try not to focus on the stroke orders at first as they slow down the process for learning the scripts.
2. Practice your Japanese through learning how to listen and speak Japanese
- Expanding your vocabulary is essential to enhance your listening and speaking skills. For beginners, it may be difficult to grasp each word and comprehend a sentence if one’s vocabulary is limited. One reason being is homonyms, which can be difficult to distinguish with a limited vocabulary.
- Engage in real conversations with people. It is daunting to converse in a second language especially if you are still learning. However, it is a really practical way to boost your Japanese speaking and listening ability. Merely learning through textbooks will not help you improve these skills. If you are in Japan, use that opportunity to talk with native speakers and practice your Japanese.
- If you do not have native people around you, use language exchange applications. People in the applications are willing to learn and teach their language in exchange, so it is a great source to find a language partner. One application that I recommend is Hello Talk.
- Watch lots of Japanese programs like dramas and TV shows. They help you learn natural Japanese phrases that you can imitate and use in real life conversations with people. Anime is also a good source but do not use it as your main study tool since some anime use archaic or unusual language.
There are other various self-learning ways that could help you improve your Japanese. The ones written in this post are just methods that suit my learning. If you are still unaware of what works best for you, try out all the learning methods available since applying the right one could really make your learning experience worth it.